Senator Charles E. Grassley
Chairman, Subcommittee on Administrative
Oversight and the Courts
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-1501
Dear Chairman Grassley:
In response to your letter of June 8, 1999, requesting that I provide additional information concerning my testimony before your committee on May 10, 1999, I offer the following:
Question from Senator Thurmond
"You testified that the FBI made errors in the investigation, handling, and processing of evidence. Did you advise any of your superiors at the NTSB of these errors? If so, what actions, if any, did they take with respect to them?"
I and others advised Investigator-In-Charge Alfred Dickenson, Office of Aviation Safety Director Dr. Bernard Loeb, and NTSB Chairman Jim Hall of the problems related to the collection, processing, and safeguarding of evidence as well the investigative process on a continual basis.
Unfortunately, things such as an "evidence control log" which should be used to document all evidence submitted to any laboratory of examination or testing fell on deaf ears and was not accepted despite many complaints over a several month period by all the parties to the investigation. The absence of an evidence control log made it impossible to know what evidence had been removed from the hangers, what laboratory it had been sent to or by whom, what the nature and results of the tests were, and what the final disposition of the evidence was. To this day there are still unanswered questions concerning evidence sent for examination.
I saw little positive action taken by the NTSB to address these problems. In my opinion, we (NTSB) had a serious leadership problem during the course of the investigation. One of many examples of this was the Vice Chairman's Robert Francis absence on a daily basis from all daily investigative progress meetings. These meetings are critical in charting the progress and direction of an investigation. I have participated in over 110 major transportation accident investigation while with the NTSB and the TWA-800 investigation is the only one in which the NTSB Board Member in charge was never available to the investigative staff.
During the course of the onscene investigation, which lasted over a 15 plus month period, the NTSB Vice Chairman in charge of the NTSB investigation not only never showed up for daily investigative progress meetings, he gave away the Safety Board's authority, to without, to my knowledge, consulting the staff or the headquarters managers. It is easy to see how the FBI just resorted to their usual modus operandi of taking charge even if they didn't know what they were getting into.
The FBI mad several mistakes however, to be fair the NTSB is also responsible for its share of errors, the most serious of which was the inexcusable absence of leadership.
In the event I may be of further service please do not hesitate to contact me at my office 1(202) XXX-XXXX.
Henry F. Hughes
Cc: NTSB Govt. Affairs